Saturday, August 31, 2013

There are no PR genies

There are no magic lanterns. No PR genies. No write-it-for-you software or apps. Nothing is going to create a readable news release or public relations pitch for you -- except someone whose skill set includes newswriting, storytelling, editing, and interviewing.

I often teach university-level public relations courses. And, when I'm looking for examples of unedited, clumsily crafted news releases published online, my first stop, inevitably, is 

Smokey the Genie (right) with Bugs Bunny
MyPRGenie bills itself as a one-stop resource for PR support, including blogs, search engine optimization, and hosting online newsrooms. All are useful in today's PR universe. They may be better at some services than others.

But I tremble whenever I find news releases -- often written by someone with, ah, less-developed writing skills -- that find their way online with virtually no editing or attention to what an editor will read. One recent verbatim example:

"Seriously, if you are interested in visiting Japan and wish to make sure that your trip is all fun and that you get to interact with the local people of Japan without any hurdles, then it is highly recommended for you to learn to speak Japanese. The best means for you to do so is to take on Japanese classes Tokyo. This way, you would be able to learn Japanese from experts who are native Japanese and hold the qualifications required to be able to teach others."

What's this message promoting? Travel? Learning a new language? The inability to use articles and nouns? It's doing a terrifyingly poor job at all three.

What would it take for MyPRGenie to provide a copy editor to fix this editorial train wreck? Or for the writer (possibly a small business owner in Tokyo) to ask a freelance copy editor to clean it up?

Not much.

(Hint: do not turn to this "first class paraphrasing service" to solve the problem, either.)

You'll find a number of high-quality online PR wire services that can ensure your verbiage doesn't read like a brochure explosion. Or independent PR professionals (myself included). Prices vary widely. Buy what you can afford.

But spend enough so that your message is clear, understandable, and compelling. Spend enough so that your reputation is burnished, not tarnished, by your news releases.

And skip the search for a PR genie in a magic lamp.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Photography made difficult

I don't have an Instagram account. But I have friends in the public relations industry who do, and use them often.

They're smart professionals. So I assume they realize that Instagram doesn't make money by hosting their gee-whiz edited photos of their trip to Savannah. It makes money by harvesting data from photos, including the metadata it contains.

Your smartphone's camera adds metadata to your photos. It knows where and when you captured the photo. The exposure, the brand of camera, etc. And I'm certain Facebook -- owners of Instagram, you'll recall -- understands how to sift out important information from your photos. And re-sell that information to its advertisers.

The PR business is about influencing people's attitudes. What do you and I care about? How can PR people and marketers use that knowledge to influence users' attitudes and behaviors?

I'm not a fool. Google does this sort of data-mining with all my searches. When I was looking for information on a new musical instrument, I soon began seeing web ads for that instrument alongside content on news pages I read.

But the data Google gleans from my searches isn't geographic. It doesn't tell Google where I bought the instrument -- unless I use Google Wallet.

Instagram, however, likely tells would-be advertisers much more about you than you'd like. Most casual iPhone photographers don't think about composing a photo. As a result, many shots have cluttered backgrounds. Maybe you don't see the boxes of cereal or the brand of stereo in the background behind your photos.

But I'm wagering Instagram does.

Indeed, I post photos to Facebook. And it's likely Facebook knows the brand of camera I used to shoot them. But the metadata I surrender doesn't tell Facebook where I shot the photo; if the camera has GPS, I turn it off.

And every so often, I post of picture of something irrelevant; a funky coffee maker, or a set of orange-handled steak knives. Just to screw up whatever demographic recipe the data-miners have been cooking up about me.